Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Lord of the jungles

4 May 2009, 1338 hrs IST, ET Bureau

Strap: To an inadequately-equipped police force, they are the scourge of the the southern districts. But to hopelessly poor adivasis who have lived
in the area for centuries and have forever been deprived, the Maoists’ anti-establishment acts are a way of redressal of their own grievances against the administration.

"The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.": Mao Zedong

He moves through the dense jungles of Malkangiri and Koraput districts bordering Andhra Pradesh like a panther -- lean, mean and savage. The Kalashnikov-47 assault rifle slung around his shoulder, a magazine dangling carelessly at the waist and a bag of provisions on the back of his military fatigues, he moves with his followers from one scene of crime to another. He is the Sarkar, the Boss. He is also the Anna, which in Telegu means brother.

Anna is a master at guerilla warfare and he is chief of Maoist operations across the inhospitable jungles of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. His methods are characterised by lightning fast precision attacks with matching firepower on individual groups of police or para military forces, or on government or business installations that leave the administrative counter-offensive pretty flat footed.

Every operation of the Sarkar embarasses the Naveen Pattnaik government, although hundreds and thousands of Orissa’s impoverished tribals just love the action. In the wake of the formation of the CPI-Maoist in 2004, two zonal committees of the outfit have been responsible for activities inOrissa: the Andhra Orissa Bihar Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) and the Jharkhand-Bihar-Orissa Special Zonal Committee (JBOBSZC).

These two, function in close co-ordination with the CPI-Maoist Central Committee and the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee. The AOBSZC, which covers the Maoist districts of Malkangiri, Koraput, Gajapati, Nabarangpur, Rayagada and Ganjam, has a bureaucratic organisational structure, and is divided into two bureaus. The South Bureau includes the Malkangiri Division and the North Bureau comprises the Banshadhara Division.

They have created the Orissa-West Bengal-Jharakhand Special Zone. Police sources said the Maoists have of late established Gumusur division covering Bhanjanagar, Soroda, Kotagarh, Daringibadi and G Udayagiri with an ambitious plan to create a long-term guerrilla zone. This zone is headed by Sabyasachi Panda, who is said to have masterminded the Nayagarh attacks and killing of Swami Laxmanananda last year, making international headlines.

Maoists typically function through their dalams (armed squads). In Malkangiri district, there are several dalams, including the Kalimela dalam, the Poplur dalam, the Motu dalam, the Jhanjavati dalam and the Korkonda dalam. In Rayagada district, there is the Udaya dalam among others.

These dalams recruit locals and send them to various Maoist training centres in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The insurgents even use high-power jammers and filters to block mobile and wireless services in the Maoist "zones". They also use satellite phones.

According to a top Orissa government official : "They came earlier in hundreds. Now, if need be, they can come in thousands. Anna has emerged the saviour of adivasis who are the original inhabitants of this region. The absence of tribal-centric development, lack of governance, the laidback attitude of bureaucrats and politicians have all been responsible for creating this very complex situation. We should be prepared for a long haul."

Undoubtedly, Orissa Police lacks requisite infrastructure and manpower to check Maoists in the southern districts. State Director General of Police, Manmohan Praharaj admits: "We are handicapped by manpower shortages and infrastructure needs much improvement. We have the sanction for 2000 constables for Special Operation Group (SOG) but we can’t fill up the vacancies." What is worse, is the fact that at least 57 IPS posts remain vacant in Orissa, which has a sanctioned strength of 159 such officers.

Orissa currently requires modernisation and upgradation of the remaining 400 police stations. Orissa Police currently has over 5,000 vacancies while 5,000 more await training. "Whereas there are 142 policemen per one lakh population on average across the country, Orissa has only 102 policemen per lakh of population," Mr Praharaj said.

This casual approach towards strengthening the state’s police force has severely hamstrung counter insurgency operations. Two years ago, the state government had submitted a proposal of Rs 550 crore to the Centre for overall development of districts affected by insurgency and government circles say that the state will prefer to continue with its strategy of giving priority to developmental issues rather than strengthening its police force. "We plan to ensure rural connectivity, health facilities and employment in tribal-dominated districts where Maoists lure people to their groups," a top government official said. Officials feel that if the corridor passing through the Maoist-affected states of Jharkhand, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh is constructed, it would usher in economic development in the region and reduce the intensity of ultra Left Wing extremism.

That is all very well, except that vis-a-vis the needs, nothing much of development ever seems to happen.

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